Editor’s note: This pastoral letter was written by Wang Yi in October of 2017, just over a year before he was arrested in December of 2018. The letter was originally published on Wang Yi’s blog.
This December marks the first anniversary of the arrests at Early Rain Covenant Church. Since then, the persecution of the church in China has only increased. Many Chinese believers have lost homes, jobs, and freedom because of their faith in Christ. And yet, in the midst of suffering, the church in China continues to praise God with incredible joy.
The Lord’s Servant, Wang Yi,
Peace be with you, brothers and sisters in all the churches that are filled with “the fullness of him who fills all in all.”
This has truly been a busy and eventful month. From the start of Camp Shiyi, the “theology of the cross” has been in our midst, and everything seems to have picked up pace. I apologize that there has been a lull in the release of pastoral letters; however, there are many words I would like to share with you. I am filled with both a sense of the shortage of time as well as with an unspeakable excitement. Since 2009, the Lord has often used the verse from Ezra 9:8 to motivate and inspire me: “But now for a brief moment favor has been shown by the Lord our God, to leave us a remnant and to give us a secure hold within his holy place, that our God may brighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our slavery.”
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At that time, Israel was rebuilding the temple and the city walls. During the 2008 earthquake and the ensuing rebuilding in 2009 [in China], which the church continued amidst suppression, this verse became for me a vision from the Lord of a small revival of the church. In fact, over the last few decades, house churches have often drawn encouragement from the post-exilic accounts of the Israelites. Early in my walk with God, the Xiaomin hymns, such as “In These Remaining Years” and “Treading the Remaining Miles,” overturned my knowledge of reality. As I spoke about at camp, the tradition of the house churches emphasizes the “eschatology of the gospel” or the “eschatological gospel.”
The church usually has three ways of viewing reality. One view is that the ship is sinking, and thus there is no value is doing anything other than endeavoring to save souls. Another views the ship not as sinking, but as damaged.Regardless of how tattered the ship may be, those who hold this view believe that the power of redemption will uphold the ship, and that the Kingdom of God will eventually be established on this ship. The third view says that the ship is sinking, but the instruments on the ship must still be cleaned, even played at least one more time as in a performance. There will be a brand-new ship in the future, but life on the new ship will not be completely unrelated to our life on this currently sinking ship.
In a way, our present reality has in fact become meaningless in the light of the gospel. As such, if we were to die immediately or if time were to instantly come to an end, we would have no regrets. However, in another sense, this meaningless reality has become meaningful because of the gospel. We must cherish every second as long as we are still alive and time has not yet come to an end, for it is only through faith that this meaningless reality is connected with eternity. The present reality is an inverted image of eternity.
Therefore, our view of reality is of the third kind. The world is a damaged ship and really is sinking. As such, you cannot build the Kingdom of Heaven on this ship, nor can you treat this ship as your eternal home. But all that is on the ship is an inverted image of eternity, and it is only on this old ship can we understand the form of the new ship. The key is faith, and faith needs a stage. Faith is like a master ballet dancer, dancing gracefully on a dilapidated stage. On the one hand, as long as the dance is beautiful, what does it matter if the stage is in tatters? Alternatively, imagine how glorious and resplendent it will be the day this master dancer performs on a magnificent stage. For now, however, God says that the value of this dance must be expressed on a dilapidated stage.
Let me give you another example. Many have read the story about the experiment where Joshua Bell performed six Bach pieces while standing in the [Washington, D.C.] subway. He is the greatest violinist in the world, and he plays a violin that is worth 3.5 million American dollars. The average price of a ticket to his concert just two days prior to the experiment was $200. However, in this experiment, of the 2000 people who walked by during Joshua Bell’s 45 minute performance in the subway, only 20 stopped to listen, earning him $32 in his hat.
Beloved brothers and sisters, what I am trying to say is that you are a group of the greatest artists in the universe performing in a subway station. The world does not recognize you, but your value is, ironically, manifested through their ignorance and lack of recognition. Put another way, you are a group of master ballet dancers performing at a landfill. And this is the meaning of the landfill – that although you will be deemed lunatics by those who stay near it, because of you, the landfill has become an image of the new heaven and the new earth.
This is how the author of Hebrews describes your value (Heb. 11:38): “Of whom the world was not worthy – wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”
At the camp, our power and water were cut, thus showing that we are people of whom the world is not worthy.
The brothers and sisters heading to the Hong Kong theological conference were questioned, threatened, and investigated, proving them to be people of whom the world is not worthy.
Brother Ding Shuqi was pinned to the floor by the airport police and, over the course of 24 hours, was subjected to dreadful and agonizing interrogation techniques that included being detained, being hand-cuffed, having a bright light shone in his face, and being deprived of sleep. All of this shows that the world is not worthy of him.
But the amazing part about the gospel is that Jesus Christ came to the landfill and gave the landfill meaning. Jesus took the form of a servant and in so doing made servanthood meaningful. Jesus entered shame and death, so that the shame and death of this world would now have meaning. This is the reason I say that first, the ship is sinking, and second, the sinking ship still has meaning.
Beloved brothers and sisters, I particularly want to remind you that spiritual warfare is intense. The works of Satan are putrid and diabolical. For many years, the government has both been searching for holes in this church and scrutinizing my mountain of materials. It has even tried to secretly provoke or create holes in the church. I am paying attention to all the rumors and traces of this. The church has also recently confirmed that a former member (who has since left) was a spy from a related government department and had been spreading lies among the believers.
Some things will be revealed when the time is right. But there are many things that will only be made known when we see the Lord. The goal of all of this is to make manifest, on this dilapidated stage, the value of faith. Therefore, it is critical for you to realize that if you do not have love in your heart, you will become an instrument of the devil. And if you are filled with complaints and grumble against the church, its pastors, or its co-workers, and are unable to come to them in light of the gospel, then someday you will become an instrument that Satan employs to destroy the church.
In The Compelling Community: Where God’s Power Makes a Church Attractive, the author wrote about how much he missed Pastor Mark Dever and Capitol Hill Baptist Church while he was serving elsewhere. But he went on to mention something else that struck my heart. He said, “Not only did I miss Pastor Dever and his preaching, I also missed the community that was birthed from his preaching.”
This has become my prayer recently. I hope that when someone mentions my ministry in the future, that it will not be described as an abstraction of words and sermons, but rather as a humble ministry that has concretely influenced and built you – this gospel community – up.
When I was an academic, I mistakenly believed that my future crown would be centered on my words. It was only after my calling to be a pastor that I understood Paul’s heart, which was revealed when he called the Philippian church “my joy and my crown” and said to the Thessalonian church, “because you are my glory, my joy.”
Beloved, the thought that I will one day wear you on my head and say, “This community is the joy and glory of my life” is of utmost beauty and something I dare not even dream of. Therefore, let us sing together in the subways and dance together in the landfills.
Let me remind all of you once again that our government is ambitious. Their goal is not only to obtain order in society, but to monopolize the meaning of landfills and subway stations. As such, the government is concerned when we dance ballet at landfills. We will find police officers pinning us to the ground when we play the violin in the subway. However, this is part of the meaning of the landfill, for God has allowed them to be ambitious because he wants to magnify the value of faith. In general, the more terrible the performance environment, the greater the “eschatological meaning” of the church’s show.
Let us therefore wait in stillness and act in vigor. Out of reverence for God’s plan, let us also maintain an honorable respect while we humbly disobey the government’s intentions to control the heart and worship of its people, since respecting the opponent that God has placed before you is akin to respecting God.
There are times when we submit through our actions, but do not identify with or endorse these actions in our hearts.
Other times, we remain defiant in our actions, but we do not show contempt.
In this way, we pray at dawn and rest at dusk, and the government’s power has nothing to do with us.
Yes, the ship is sinking, but we clean our instruments in six days and sing on the Lord’s day.
A Brother who is willing to “be like sheep among wolves” with you,
October 21 2017
Will you join us in praying for our persecuted Chinese brothers and sisters? Will you pray that the Lord will strengthen the church in China, accomplishing his will through them even in the midst of persecution?
Translation provided by Moses, Sarah, and the China Partnership translation team.